Monday, July 26, 2010

WH Presser on Wikileaks Afghanistan Docs

This is a sad, sad thing. Gibbs is stammering and stuttering, trying desperately to look like he's on top of this. He sounds like he's about to cry.

The reporters are merciless. They aren't happy about how the NYT/Guardian/Der Spiegel scooped the hell out of 'em by doing real, honest-to-goodness investigative journalism. They're trying to score points by sounding tough, so as to have something to show for their (lack of) efforts. The smarter ones probably realize that they're struggling for their profession's existence: the main value of newspapers and television news was their ability to get interviews and primary source material, and wikileaks showed that non-newspapers can handle it.

The worst part is the whinging. Gibbs keeps saying "we didn't get to see the material beforehand! They didn't bring it to us! They won't talk to us!" Of course they didn't, Rob: Julian Assange has no reason to. You've already arrested his source, and he's been subject to a manhunt by your people since the helicopter footage leak. You aren't his friends. You aren't his allies. And since you aren't his government, he holds no allegiance to you. He clearly doesn't trust you, either, hence the Guardian/NYT/Spiegel stunt. He wanted to make sure that you couldn't pressure a single publication into shutting it down.

(As I write this, he admits that they would have tried to shut the NYT story down on "national security" grounds.)

The second-worst part is the "no new revelations" line. Leaving aside all the stories about the ISI bankrolling and supporting the Taliban, it only reinforces the idea that only novelty and spectacle is worth discussing. That's half the reason American media is so terrible. It doesn't need reinforcement. Assange himself has acknowledged that there is no single electrifying incident. He's said that the value of the documents is showing the broader nature and progress of the war. He's probably delayed releasing the really juicy stuff, since he's trying to minimize the harm the material could cause in the here-and-now.

What's really valuable, though, is the way that it snubs its nose at the trends in modern western media. Everything is short-form these days. Sound bites, twitters, and up-to-the-minute scrolling newstext are paramount. You can't get long-form analysis even if you want it. That someone would think that releasing a ton of information is a good idea, in the service of allowing people to understand it themselves is practically revolutionary in-and-of itself.  There's no mediation or digestion. You can read it for yourself.

(If you haven't, go read some of it now, if only to show to yourselves that you're grownups and not just "media consumers". The "propaganda" category is compelling, for example, since it gets into the nighttime anonymous letters that the Taliban uses to intimidate regular Afghans.)

...okay, now Gibbs just used "misunderestimated". I think we're done here. Go read some memos.

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